AGRICULTURAL REFORMS IN INDIA: SHALLOW MEASURES AND HOLLOW PROMISES

Updated: Apr 9

INTRODUCTION

Agricultural reforms hold a stout importance in India. With 70% of the population relying on the success of the agricultural produce and allied activities for their survival, India is primarily an agrarian economy. In September 2020, the Parliament rushed three bills to augment reforms in the agriculture sector of the country. The passing of these reforms sparked widespread protests of farmers in the country with demands of repealing the laws and legal guarantee of Minimum Support Price for farmers produce. This blog post traces the reasons for the farmers' agitation and resentment towards these reform bills by drawing out the unparliamentary and untimely manner in which these reforms were passed. It also highlights how the reforms favour a capitalist structure thereby jeopardising the rural economy. It further traces on the reforms being in contravention with the country’s international obligations.

UNDERMINING THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS OF LAW MAKING

The law-making process in a parliamentary democracy ought to be consultative and deliberative in order to stand on the ideals of the democratic government envisioned by the lawmakers. However, in the instance of the farmers’ bills these ideals were shelved by the government as these reforms were introduced as Ordinances in June when both the Houses of Parliament were not in session and the country was grappling with the fallout of a global pandemic. Later, the reforms were presented in the Monsoon session as bills which after being passed by the Lower House were passed by just a voice vote despite the Opposition demanding a division vote in the Upper House.

This backdoor mechanism of enacting the reforms disregards the concepts of legislative scrutiny by the democratically elected members of the Parliament. These laws, therefore, being enacted without any deliberation and discussion makes the process adopted antithetical to the spirit of democracy and the principles enshrined in the Constitution.

ANALYSIS OF THE NEW REFORMS

Article 39 of the Indian Constitution directs the State policy approach towards ensuring adequate means of livelihood, distribution of material resources towards common good, and assuring restriction against concentration of wealth in the hands of few individuals. Additionally, Article 51 provides that the state will respect and uphold international law and treaty obligations. But the agriculture reforms, summarised as follows, which were introduced by the government, run contrary to the provisions laid out in the Constitution: -

· The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act provides for setting up a mechanism for private buyers to purchase outside the regulated markets without the imposition of taxes.

· The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, allows for corporate houses to enter into agreements of contract farming with the farmers.

· The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act removes government regulations on trade and storage of goods like edible oils, onions, pulses and other food grains, except during extraordinary situations such as famines etc.

Despite being advocated as a breakthrough for the advancement of the agricultural sector, these reforms are hollow promises as they tend to ignore the ground realities and needs of the sector in the broad aspect.

Ignoring the Deep Pockets Theory

While introducing the provisions of contract farming, the reforms place two parties with unequal influence and means together. On one hand, there are big corporate houses with well devised monetary, infrastructural and legal structures. While on the other, are small farmers who have little education and no financial backing. This therefore increases the chance of exploitation of the farmers who rely on yearly income, contracting with these corporate houses, that can handle losses initially in the look for long term profits.

The concerns voiced out against these reforms are not of a localised nature with the growing instance of land inequality and capitalist takeover of the primary sector. The new laws pave the way for a free market in agriculture, where the monopoly of Agriculture Market Committees (AMC) is diluted to bring liberalization in agriculture. This will give opportunities for private corporations to take over the sector and render loss of livelihood for the marginal farmers and farm labourers.

No recourse for Judicial Redressal

Adding to the woes of the one sided deal, the jurisdiction of a civil court is replaced with the authority of a sub-divisional board, which is based upon heavy bureaucratic procedure thereby curbing the right to seek judicial redressal of any dispute arising during the corporate farming agreements. This reflects an imbalanced approach being adopted by the authorities, as the corporate houses have the means and resources to bend the bureaucratic machinery to their will and the small farmer